Yardie (2018)

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Idris Elba has proved to be a great presence on screen, but does his recognisable voice translate to be as effective behind the camera? ‘Yardie’ is his debut film as director and though, at times it feels like a frustrating muddle of scenes, there’s a powerful collection of actors and music tracks to keep the movie from failing.

Jamaica 1983 and 10 years after his brother was shot, Dennis Campbell aka ‘D’ (Aml Ameen) is told by King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd), to head to London with a cocaine package and deliver it to British gangster/club owner Rico (Stephen Graham). The drug deal becomes a bust and ‘D’ could end up starting a war between cultures in London which will have an impact on people back in Jamaica.

A large percentage of this film, majoritively in the earlier stages has a feel reminiscent of Brazil’s 2002 ‘City of God’. The style choices made in this recent release with freeze-frames on certain characters, the tropical setting lit by rays of sun and the story of a young kid growing up on a path of gangs and violence add to the Meirelles/Lund parallels. This is no bad comparison as the first parts of this film are strong, it’s just a shame that as the central character hits Hackney, the story doesn’t quite keep to its convictions and feels a bit tame.

It is clear that Elba directs with an eye or perhaps ear on creating heart in his first feature. He probably had a major influence over the music choices, what with his extra curricular DJ activities, he ensures the story pulsates with Caribbean reggae sounds. The soundtrack gives this film a great aural power, which isn’t mirrored by the plain plot. The main revenge arc is simple and could be effective but is lost amongst other plot points which flit in and out. The characters don’t help this narrative too much either, ‘D’ isn’t always that enthralling, King Fox is an interesting character but there’s never enough of him to keep the tension bubbling.

Ameen is good as Dennis, he does bestow this chap plenty of cheek and charisma in places, if not enough innocence to make his journey more charged with an engagement factor. Stephen Graham is the stand out, he is a captivating presence in this film. The shifting of accents, bearing of golden teeth and the nasty unpredictability are all expertly mastered by the actor and he stops the London-set scenes from being empty on erratic tension.

A fine debut from Idris Elba in the controlling chair, just not a riveting one that secures him as a director with a leading voice, yet. ‘Yardie’ becomes a film which feels long but there are sights and sounds of soul in this drama which help give it some needed liveliness.

6/10

 

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Journey’s End (2018)

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Never shying away from the mud and blood of World War I, this British feature is moving and tense and like the soldiers, is committed to the last in showing this.

Set over a period of four days in March 1918, we follow young lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) into the front trenches. He wants to be here because he knows the captain from back in Blighty, though Stanhope (Sam Claflin) is a different man thanks to the war. There’s been a long stalemate and as Stanhope’s men are tasked with holding the line, any day now seems likely for German soldiers to make their advance.

Based on a play from 1928 by R.C. Sheriff, this drama is incredibly effective and at times almost emotional as we see the horrors and futility of war take hold. There are a lot of different characters and Simon Reade; who wrote the screenplay for this adaptation has ensured that they don’t become overblown stereotypes. Throughout this film there is a definite sense of crushing hopelessness, this works so well in highlighting how pointless actions of these men are and just how grim their situation is.

Saul Dibb directs in a manner that truly throws the audience in amongst the ticking tension. There are plenty of tight frames and close ups of characters that give nearly the entire movie a claustrophobic wash of unease. Seeing these group of soldiers facing a horrifying possibility of death never really lets up, like some slower patriotic movies may have done. It hits home how devastating their plight is and the bitingly cold scenery of their sunken home for that time can be felt through the screen, as if the director is immersing us alongside these men. A camera movement following them through the sodden mud is a great example of how bleak and involving the film can be.

I would say that its only weakness lays in a raid scene, that builds up fantastically but once it hits the editing becomes too frenzied. I know in one way this works to show how maddening and scarily chaotic this would have been but trying to focus and keep up with what was happening on screen became difficult and you lose what happens to the characters.

Asa Butterfield is great in a role that guides us through the outskirts right into the very heart and disheartening midst of trench warfare. He plays the naive and excitable young soul well which makes certain changes in what he sees and eventually understands much more painfully real. Sam Claflin excels here, in what is the best performance I’ve seen him in. Clinging to whiskey and straining to retain calm is evidently felt and in one scene opposite Butterfield, he barks and foams at the mouth with an intensity that isn’t violent but one of increased frustration of how much he can bear. Paul Bettany gifts the film some good ol’ British spirit and stiff upper lip playing Osborne, and ensures to show that behind the eyes he’s just as scared as everyone. Stephen Graham and Toby Jones are other notable mentions who have moments of levity but ultimately are lost men drawn into the front.

This is a film that certainly makes you think. It’s a well made movie with an affecting tone which hangs over your head after the credits scroll. There’s an intensity and undeniable foreboding quality from start to finish.

7.5/10

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

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This was a film that likely would have passed be my; I hadn’t seen a trailer or knew anything about this, but I’d call it a hidden gem because it’s just wonderfully made harking to the Hollywood of old.

After falling ill before a stage performance, former silver screen actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) wishes to stay at the house of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and his kin. Turner and Grahame had been in a relationship for the last two years or so and we see their up and down romance throughout the movie.

Based on a memoir from Peter Turner himself, this romantically themed drama is extremely engaging. Firstly I must comment on the utterly believable relationship between Bening and Bell. This old/young romance never feels wrong, strange or make believe, there’s a genuine affection and attraction built between the actors that helps the film along. The film delves back and forth between her at the house in 1981 and her meeting Turner in 1979, the transitions to and from these moments in time are quite clever and give it an almost one take theatrical vibe as if moving scenes forward on a stage.

For my sins, I had no clue that the glamorous performer in question was actually based on a real actress from the heyday of Hollywood. This only made the story more impacting as I came to realise the true account running through the narrative. I liked to think I know Oscars and actors but I obviously need to brush up on the glitz of 40’s/50’s stardom. It’s this pizzazz and studio based ideal of talent and fitting into a mould to sell pictures that gives Gloria real depth and vulnerability as you see her clinging on to youth and wanting to be loved.

There are some aspects in the film that are predictable and you know what someone may say or what characters will do and a sequence you see from one perspective gets re-shown from the other side with a healthy dose of melodramatic strings rising and clear emphasis on trying to make you emotional, almost cheesy I could say. There’s clear green screen in use for places like New York and beaches of California but they’re apt in a way for this film about acting, gifting the whole feature a movie look as if we’re seeing their memories as glances on a film reel.

Annette Bening better get recognised come awards season, if she’s not up for an Oscar then a Golden Globe at least because she is sublime in this. The mannerisms and the way she talks are an almost sweetly yet seductive Marilyn Monroe quality and she carries confidence and false confidence in equal measure. She completely buries herself into the role and I bought her turn as Grahame hook line and sinker. Jamie Bell gives Turner great care and love, you buy into this man that isn’t much of anything, a success or triumph but a funny, interesting and kind guy who cares deeply for this enigmatic presence in his life. He plays opposite Bening with convincing ease and they’re both fantastic together. It’s great seeing Bell reunite with Julie Walters who dons a Scouse accent rather well and brings that expected and needed heart and comedic touch. I also want to comment on the much too short but almost scene-stealing turn from Frances Barber who plays Gloria’s sister. The icy stares and sharp tongue were brilliant.

This is a film that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the intelligence of its audience with predictable moments and repeated scenes driving home points we’d already gathered but it’s a special movie with a fragile soul beautifully illustrated by the exceptional performances from Bening and Bell.

7/10

Get Santa (2014)

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A nice blend of grit and festive cheer make this British Christmas flick work quite well. It features a splendid British cast, a sweet dose of magical Santa believing for the kids and enough scepticism to interest the adults in the cinema crowd.

One night, nine year old Tom (Kit Connor) finds who he thinks is Father Christmas (Jim Broadbent) in his shed. In his apparent crashing to Earth, Santa needs his reindeer back and in trying to get them he winds up in prison. Tom has to hope his recently released dad Steve (Rafe Spall) will help at whatever cost in the quest to save Christmas.

It’s a fun little thought to take a family festive film and twist it slightly to make it more earthy. This gritty subtext of the movie keeps it from being a sickly Xmas pud it may well have been otherwise. I know it’s majorly aimed at children but the whole letters and pipes to Lapland is a tad to much, so thankfully grimy UK prisons, subtle adult jokes and police incompetence makes it bearable. Though I may not have liked the softer magical side of it all, it would be hard to think of a child that wouldn’t like seeing the idea to save Christmas as appealing and enjoyable.

As mentioned, there are a few offerings to appease the grown ups going to the pictures to view this release. Inspired moments like Tom saying a man called Santa wants to show him his plan are clever dirty lines that will make adults laugh, the entire prison idea is a different stroke for a film of this genre and it works quite well to be honest. In the slammer we get to see shady blokes tormenting the screen as much as they clearly torment the jolly old guy in red. It also gives us a chance to see the brilliant Stephen Graham as a helpful and handy barber, in turn gifting us a gangster Claus walking with swagger down the halls.

Some moments in this movie are very pantomime, the police are sent up as much as possible, which is fine by me but at times it loses the gritty style in their madcap lack of intelligence. The Trunchbull-esque character played by Joanna Scanlan is so grotesquely villainous it’s a surprise she’s not sprouting warts, cooking up poisoned apples and cackling. Though riffing on the pantomime feel, Tom and Steve dress up as stage cast to evade the cops and a funny, though very British Keith Chegwin reference crops up in the process.

The film has its pitfall in feeling quite long too. The first half seems to go by quickly and then it seems to slow down painfully all of a sudden. Maybe in the endgame not arriving as quickly as it should considering the outcome we all know is on the horizon or perhaps in its meh so-so delivery of a crime caper disguised as a Xmas movie. It’s quite annoying really as the beginning really strides nicely in the crime side of things but it begins losing that edge as the film goes on and on. Also the entire Harry Mitchell (I think that’s the name used) back-story never makes much sense.

Rafe Spall is a great deadpan actor to have as the struggling sceptic dad and his one note lines in places work fantastically well in painting him as a believable father trying to keep himself in his son’s good books but also not end up back behind bars. Jim Broadbent gets Santa just right and ho ho ho does he ever convince as good ol’ St. Nick. There’s a twinkle in his eye but he loses that just about enough as needed when trying to play a straight laced convict, the facial squints and get outta my face segment is a finer moment of the film. Kit Connor is a lovely new talent and as the innocent everyday child he plays the unstretching Tom well.

Fun to see an idea of getting Santa out of the clink but not dealt with as greatly as it had the chance to have. It’s more full of whimsy than grit and reindeer farting firmly makes it a more child friendly movie but this festive Shawshank isn’t all squit.

5.5/10